Spanish singer Karina was the undisputed queen of Spain’s ye-yé scene, enjoying greater success and a longer career than any of her contemporaries. Hits such as La fiesta and El baúl de los recuerdos remain popular today, and her En un mundo nuevo is often cited as Spain’s best-ever entry to the Eurovision song contest.
She was born María Isabel Llaudes Santiago in Jaén, in Andalusia, southern Spain. There is some debate over her date of birth. Some biographies give it as 4 December 1943, others as 12 April 1945.
As a child she learned to play the guitar and the piano, and in her teens she went on to perform in clubs and radio stations.
She made her recording debut in 1961, as Maribel Llaudes. Signed to the RCA label, she issued a couple of covers of songs from the Benidorm song festival, Quisiera ser and No preguntas por qué, but neither proved a hit.
Two years later, she gained TV exposure in the programme Hi-fi scale on the national station, TVE, where she was spotted by Emilio Santamaria, the father of future chart-topping singer (and Eurovision song contest winner) Massiel. He helped her land a contract with the Hispavox label, who relaunched her to a pop-hungry public as Karina.
Somewhat disappointingly, however, a cover of Puff the magic dragon became her first release for the label. She followed it up with Dile, a take on the Exciters’ Tell him, but lost out in a sales war to a rival version by Rosalía. Much was made in the media of a rivalry between the two singers.
1964 saw her team up with the group Los Jaguars for the release of No está bien (Lesley Gore’s She’s a fool), which was swiftly followed by Puedo, from the film Arriba las mujeres.
Although she enjoyed some success in Venezuela, her charms continued to elude Spanish record buyers until the release in 1965 of Muñeca de cera, her take on France Gall’s Eurovision winner, Poupée de cire, poupée de son, for Luxembourg.
The EP, which also included a version of British girl singer Twinkle’s ‘death disc’ Terry, became a huge hit.
From that point on, Karina, with her youthful good looks and golden blond hair, could do little wrong – and she quickly became the queen of Spain’s ye-yé scene.
Her Me lo dijó Pérez won the Majorca song festival that year (benefiting from the fact that the song was essentially an advert for the island and the town of Palma, set to music) and helped consolidate her position.
1966 saw the release of an EP that led with Concierto para enamorados, Karina’s version of US girl group the Toys’ A lover’s concerto, and also included covers of Chris Andrews’ Yesterday man (Tu amor de ayer) and Bacharach and David’s (Always) Something there to remind me (Siempre hay algo que me recuerda a ti), a song which had given Brit girl Sandie Shaw a UK number one.
A further raid on US girl group ditties saw the release of Viviré, a version of the Poppies’ Lullaby of love, later that year. Three other covers – of French star Sheila’s Le cinéma, Petula Clark’s My love and Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ Green grass – completed the EP.
While the public adored her, critics began to become disenchanted with what they saw to be the derivative nature of Karina’s music. Her recordings, they argued, were merely saccharine versions of international hits.
In a move to silence them, albeit temporarily, the excellent original Spanish composition Ya verás became her final release of 1966, and she rounded off the year by winning the award for best ye-yé singer.
El libro de mágia, a version of British duo David and Jonathan’s The magic book, was issued as her first single of 1967, but was soon overshadowed by the much greater success of its follow up, Los chicos del preu, which had been written by Karina’s future husband, Tony Luz, guitarist with the group Los Pekenikes. Karina also starred as Yoyo in a film of the same name as the song.
She went on to appear as Bea in 1968’s La chica de los anuncios, another film by the same director, Pedro Lazaga, and in 1969’s La máquina que hace pop.
Her winning streak in the pop charts continued in 1967 with Romeo y Julieta, a version of US singer Peggy March’s German chart topper, Romeo und Julia.
Qué más te da, a cover of Lulu’s Me, the peaceful heart, issued in 1968, proved less successful, however.
While Karina’s earlier hits had held a certain charm, her material from this point on moved towards easy listening. In sales terms, this wasn’t a problem – if anything, the hits simply got bigger.
Her final single of 1968, for instance – La fiesta (a take on Marty Wilde’s Abergavenny), coupled with Las flechas del amor (Leapy Lee’s Little arrows) – scored extremely well. Similarly, both sides of her sole 1969 single, the chart-topping Regresarás/El baúl de los recuerdos, remain popular today.
In 1970, Colores, a version of the Kenny Young-penned, Clodagh Rodgers song The colors are changing, and Tú y yo, another Luz composition, gave her two more hits.
Her participation in the 1971 Eurovision song contest is seen as something of a highlight of her career. She beat rivals such as Cristina (formerly of Los Stop), Encarnita Polo and Los Mismos to win the chance to represent Spain at the contest with the Luz composition En un mundo nuevo. Despite coming second to Monaco’s Séverine, the song remains one of the Spanish public’s most popular Eurovision entries. Karina’s domestic success with it even led to her appearance in a film of the same name.
The hits continued throughout the early 1970s, including Yo te diré, Y and Oh! Carol.
Critically acclaimed albums such as 1972’s Tiempo al tiempo and 1974’s Lady Elisabeth showed a growing maturity. However, the social and political changes taking place in Spain in the mid-1970s after the death of General Franco saw the public lose interest in Karina. So, after divorcing Luz (she has subsequently remarried three times), Karina headed to Indonesia.
She returned home to appear in a play in Madrid in the early 1980s before moving to Mexico, where she enjoyed a comeback with songs such as El amor in 1985 and Siempre estás en mi corazón in 1987.
In the mid-1990s she took part in the Mágicos 60 tour of Spain, appearing alongside other former stars such as Jeanette and Micky. She returned to Spanish TV screens in 2003, winning the series Vivo cantando (named after Salomé’s 1969 Eurovision winner).
She credits her enduring popularity to the support she has received over the years from her gay fans in particular.